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US English

What is a trade mark?

Trade mark

A trade mark (or trademark is the US) is one of the types of protection that helps prevent people stealing or copying your ideas and your work – your intellectual property (IP). Trade marks act as an identifier for your brand, for example the name of your product or service, or your logo. They act as a shortcut for customers to tell you about the quality and reliability of a product or service and distinguish yours from other providers. They work alongside other forms of IP such as copyright, patents and design rights.

Where have you heard about trade marks?

When you use familiar products you will see the words Registered Trade Mark or the symbol ® to show that the name is registered. This can appear on anything from a can of Coke to from the shape of the stitching on the pockets of Levi jeans.

What you need to know about trade marks.

To protect their rights businesses and individuals can register a trade mark. This then allows you to take legal action against anyone who uses your brand without your permission – including counterfeiters. Trade marks can include:

  • words
  • sounds
  • logos
  • colours
  • a combination of all or any of these

There are restrictions about what can be used, for example, UK rules specifically state that your trade mark can't be offensive eg contain swear words.

Different countries may have slightly different rules about applying and registering – but essentially the aim is to offer legal protection. There is an international body, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), part of the United Nations, which aims to help create a balanced and effective international property system. What the WIPO does -

If businesses continue to use trade marks, they don't expire after a fixed number of years like patents – but registration fees are likely to need to be paid at regular intervals.

Intellectual property such as trade marks can be included in company's balance sheets as intangible assets.

Find out more about trade marks.

See more on intellectual property or see the United States Patent and Trademark Office's (USPTO) learning tools and links:

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